Beyond Uluru

New opportunities for the aboriginal guardians of the Katiti / Petermann Range Indigenous Protected Area in Australia’s Northern Territory. 

Indigenous women in Uluru Indigenous protected Area, Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park

In the heart and heat of Australia, two ceremonies in October provided reflection, hope and promised new action to recognise and support  aboriginal management of their lands. Deep in the Australian Outback, the 30th anniversary of the handing back of the iconic cultural and natural heritage in and around the Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park and World Heritage Area was celebrated, together with the announcement of new opportunities for the aboriginal guardians of the Katiti / Petermann Range Indigenous Protected Area in Australia’s Northern Territory.    The larger event, which featured a concert of local choirs and live performances by renowned aboriginal artists such as Dan Sultan, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the ‘handback’ of Uluru and nearby Kata-Tjuta to their rightful aboriginal custodians. The event highlighted the significance and legacy to date of the decision to grant full land title to the traditional owners, which was labelled ‘bittersweet’ by the Federal Government Indigenous Affairs Minister, Nigel Scullion. Despite the granting of title back in 1985, the area was immediately leased back to the Government for a 99-year period, and gazetted as a National Park.   Progress has been made since in developing tourism and improving management for the area, but the relationship with the traditional owners has been dogged by disenchantment and frustration around the Parks’ current relevance to, and benefit for, the local people.   The smaller ceremony, a few weeks earlier, was just as significant. The rightful community guardians of the inspiring Uluru and Kata Tjuta rock formations joined anangu (aboriginal) neighbours from communities among the the Pitjantjara and Yankuntjatjara peoples in agreeing to establish the Katiti / Petermann Ranges Indigenous Protected Area (IPA), in partnership with the Australian Federal Government. The IPA designation offers a recent and surprisingly successful approach to land conservation in Australia: one that supports and finances action and management plans based on the commitments of land-owners to protecting natural and cultural heritage values on their lands, waters and seas. So far, although 70 areas have been designated, early results are showing improvements in environmental and social indicators for all IPA sites.   The enormous new Katiti / Petermann Ranges IPA area covers over five million hectares and connects with a system of conserved areas in the Northern Territory now covering 48 million hectares – the largest protected area designation for an arid ecosystem landscape anywhere in the world. The country has rugged, quartz and granite rocky ranges and swathes of spinifex and sandplains, and includes the some of the saline lake systems of the Great Sandy Desert. Watering places have inherent cultural and biological values and the region contains a range of wetland types, some of which have invaluable and irreplaceable cultural and ecological significance. The area provides habitat for a number of unique and threatened species such as the Waru (black-footed rock-wallaby), and supports a range of locally and globally significant plant species.   The boundary completely surrounds Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park, adjoins Watarrka National Park in the Northern Territory, and adjoins the Ngaanyatjarra IPA on the West Australian Border. The scale of these efforts is impressive, and according to the Central Land Council, one of the key institutions involved in supporting the IPA designation and management, the chances of achieving successful outcomes for people and nature are significant, precisely because the local community are in the driving seat, on their terms, on their country.   IUCN’s new Green List standard is one measure that could be applied to IPAs in the near future. Discussions are underway with several local experts and national partners to establish the process and use the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas to help guide and recognize conservation outcomes for natural and cultural values in Katiti / Petermann Range and other IPAs.

Work area: 
Protected Areas
Protected Areas
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